Every country has its own history. Every land has its own unique story that fills its people with pride or shame, tears of joy and tears of sadness, shouts of praise or shouts of fear. Thailand is no different.
This past week I have been traveling with my study abroad program. My Thai Studies program incorporated an excursion to northern Thailand up near the border where Thailand meets with Burma (Myanmar) and Laos. This area is called the Golden Triangle and it is right at the Mekong River. This area is very important to Southeast Asia because it is an area of trade and commerce that is continually growing. This area also has some negative aspects because it is a hub for drug trade and human trafficking. Even though this is the case, I learned some very interesting facts about the abundance of life in Southeast Asia. The Mekong River is the second richest river in the world full of the very diverse populations of fish, and people of Southeast Asia have lived near the banks of this river for thousands of years because it provides so much fertility. Whenever I thought of rivers in the past, they never seemed that special to me, but after living in Thailand I’ve realized that there are so many miracles in nature. Rivers equate to life for so many people. Farmers depend on them for their crops; fisherman can depend on them for their food. The Mekong River is the main vein of Southeast Asia, and without it many people would be lost. Just standing on the top of the mountain and being able to see three countries at once, along with the river that gave so many the ability to survive I realized the importance of nature and natural resources.
Besides the river I also learned about another piece of Thai culture that many ethnic minorities rely on for survival. Opium is a key component to the livelihood of many Thai hill tribe people. They grow poppies and extract the latex in the middle that is the opium. We visited the Opium Museum (in my opinion it was the best museum that I have seen in Thailand) and learned about the history of opium, tea, and other drugs. The museum was built by the Chinese government so it talked a lot about China and how opium took over the lives of a mass amount of people in China around the eighteenth century. So many people became addicts that the economy began to suffer. The museum presented a lot of disturbing facts and images about drugs. It left me feeling somber when I thought about how many people had their lives ruined because of one decision to try a drug like heroine, opium, or morphine (heroine and morphine are both made from opium.)
When you first walk into the museum you enter through a long tunnel in which there are sculpted images of people and faces that seem to be in agony. They are all screaming and they are skeletons. The people look like death and the tunnel is dim. It left me with a very dismal feeling. What freaked me out the most though were the wax statues of opium addicts that could be found throughout the museum. Some were behind tiny windows and they moved, others were beneath the floor and they could not be seen until a red light flashed on and revealed their presence. After seeing what drugs can do to the body I can’t see how anyone would want to risk their life for just a simple high.
Luckily everything we did wasn’t as heavy as some of the stuff in the museum. We visited some very ancient temples, we also visited the White Temple (which isn’t an actually temple, but a temple built by an artist named Chalermchai Kositpipat ), and we did a lot of tea tasting in the Mae Sa Long District of Chiang Rai. The specialty of the people there was their tea. They had so many different types of tea to taste, and they were so friendly as they brewed tea after tea. The also had many different types of tea sets for sell. After a day of tasting freshly brewed tea we stayed in a guest house on top of a mountain. It was colder up there than the rest of Thailand, and I found myself wishing that I had brought a larger sweater with me. Besides the cold it was relaxing, and the mountain was quiet. Even when all the people came out in the morning for breakfast there was still a haze of peace that covered the town. There were a group of Thai boys between the ages of seven and ten outside of our van as we began to get in after breakfast. I began talking to them using the little Thai that I know. I ask their names and how old they were, and then I told them my name. The ten year old boy who was the oldest began going around introducing everyone. I would repeat each name he said to me, but then he went around again and began saying different names for each boy and they would all start to giggle. I then decided that he was probably calling them something other than their names and by me repeating it they thought it was funny. I began laughing along with them and I just thought to myself how difficult language barriers could be and how in spite of that every person on this planet laughs the same.